Yeah I know, it should be the other way around right? Well my anime club finished this as our last showing project of the year…
It hasn’t been that long ago since the anime community exploded over Gurren Lagann and its sheer epic awesomeness, manliness, and a healthy dose of Moe. Want another show with that Piercing the Heavens attitude and all the finest parts of Gainax? Well there’s this not-well-known-enough series called Top wo Nerae! [Eng: Aim for the Top], better known as the Gunbuster and Diebuster series. For a show many anime fans have never touched (ranked #689&701 on MAL popularity, compared to #13 for Gurren Lagann), the Gunbuster/Diebuster series is the origin of almost everything Gurren Lagann had to offer.
My friend Citrus prefers to categorize Gunbuster/Diebuster in just seven words: “hard work, guts, and loving your Onee-sama”. Okay, so you might be able to watch this show with Yuri Goggles, but it mostly parallels the beloved “Soul Brothers” of Gurren Lagann. There’s also three more words which I feel must be added, which is “believing in yourself”. Whether it’s believing in the aniki coach who believes in you, or believing in the Kouhai who believes in you, or believing in yourself who believes in you, believing will always be a necessity. Of course, you also need hard work and guts to back it up. Put all this together, strike the pose, and you have your awe-inspiring, heaven-piercing action. Sure, Gunbuster/Diebuster may not be tossing any galaxies around, but we do get to throw Jupiter, slice black holes, and create Big Bangs …in during shirt-ripping action that shatters crazy eyeglasses.
Want any more reasons to watch? Gunbuster and Diebuster are respectively directed by Hidaeki Anno and Tsurumaki Kazuya as one of their debuts. Of the two famous directors, the former made the original Neon Genesis Evangelion series and is now directing the new movies, while the latter is co-directing the same movies while stashing away the widely popular Furi Kuri under his belt (although I’m not a fan of it). Some would also claim that Gunbuster/Diebuster are the two’s greatest achievement.
The Review & Comparison
Unlike the TV-aired Gurren Lagann, Gunbuster and Diebuster were both released as OVAs, each with 6 episodes. Gunbuster first came out in 1988, making this one hell of a Gainax legacy show, with all the old style graphics and retro scifi designs of one, punchcards and ticker tape included. However, Gunbuster’s age doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, as one really has to appreciate just how top notch the animation is for back in the old days. Diebuster came out much later in 2004, but because it’s the sequel to a really old series a lot of people never caught on, henceforth its popularity is remarkably low compared to other Gainax top hits like Furi Kuri. Some people will doubtlessly attempt to skimp on the old Gunbuster and try Diebuster first. Sure, they’re both good as stand-alone series, but Diebuster will reference a number of Gunbuster moments and events that you won’t understand, let alone enjoy, unless you’ve watched Gunbuster.
You can also try the somewhat shortened movie Gunbuster vs. Diebuster first, which is what I did.
Gunbuster follows the story of Takaya Noriko, a 16 year old girl who attends a machine weapon (mecha) training school. At the start, Noriko seems clumsy, insecure, and unreliable, much like dear Simon the Digger at the start of his adventure. She desperately wishes to follow in the footsteps of her famous father, Admiral Takaya Yuzo, a Space Admiral who was killed during the opening encounter of the war against the space monsters. After the new coach Ota Koichiro transfers in, he immediately began taking an interest in refining Noriko’s skills, as he was the man who owed Admiral Takaya his life. Through Coach Ota, Noriko pairs up with her much idolized school ace, her Onee-sama Kazumi Amano, whose hard work gradually awoke the Noriko’s true hidden potential: a steely determination to accomplish anything, however impossible, through sheer hard work and guts (sound like a certain famous digger?). The hard work came first as Noriko underwent rigorous training and climbed the ranking ladders. The guts took much longer and wasn’t drawn out until after he encounter with the young pilot Toren Smith, whose role parallels Kamina in a great variety of ways.
Diebuster takes place over 11,000 years later, in an era when mankind has evolved. Now caught in a struggle with a new race of conveniently unnamed alien monsters, humanity fights them off with a special cadre of pilots entitled the Topless (a Gunbuster reference in itself), whom are capable of piloting the Buster Machines due to some details that border on psionics. This time, the story follows that of Nono, a ‘young girl’ whose dream is to become a space pilot and believes everything is doable with enough hard work and guts. Innocently charming, benevolent, resolute, and faithful to the core, Nono is the ancestor of Nia Teppelin in almost every way (including the voice by Fukui Yukari), except that she’s also pure GAR in addition to being MOE. After meeting Lal’c, a real Topless with a serious and somewhat cynical personality (and definitely tsundere), Nono decides to start following her Onee-sama and sought to gain a Buster Machine of her own… until she learns that a physical Buster Machine wasn’t what she lacked at all.
The plot of Top wo Nerae revolves around the battle for survival between humans and a unnamed race of alien monsters. It’s not original in any way, but what makes Gunbuster/Diebuster stand out is the depth that humanity will go to, the amount they’re willing to sacrifice, all in the name of survival, of actually having a tomorrow. They’ll do whatever it takes to defy fate and do the impossible, whether or not they really have the right to, and leave moral judgment of their actions to the later generations whose lives depended on their actions now. This once again draws astonishing parallelism to the struggle between the Spirals and the Anti-Spirals (and Spiral Nemnesis) of Gurren Lagann in both action and philosophy.
To bring it all together, the dramatic tension of the story, the heartfelt relationships between the characters, the soul-rendering sacrifices they make as they undergo trial and tribulations — you’ve seen it all in Gurren Lagann, watch Gunbuster/Diebuster and you’ll experience it yet again. As a bonus, you’ll gain a greater respect for both series.
The recipe I spoke of wasn’t actually directed towards achieving success for series or shows, but something far more applicable: achieving success as a person. If there’s one theme that really stood out within the Gunbuster/Diebuster series, its their take on what sets the foundational traits for the potential of achieving greatness, of becoming a hero. There’s four elements presented to this, and the first three needs only a passing mention. Hard work and guts seems to be a recurring motivator theme in all stories, although there are few series that hammers it in quite as much as in Gunbuster/Diebuster (General Armitage from Mai Otome may beg to differ, as her tossing-spaceship-into-orbit scene is forever stamped into my memories). Sisterly bonds is just an intensified version of the camaraderie focus we often see: heroes are often known by the relationships that motivate and support them, Buster Machine pilots are no exception.
Yet, despite Gunbuster’s best attempts (even with the Science Lesson OVA shorts), the hard work and guts failed to seize my top impression of the series. The two crowning moments that climbed out on top are the tearjerking “Welcome Home” scene which secured Gunbuster an excellent score in the drama genre, and when Nono shattered all limits in her GAR mode in Diebuster. If I can have a that-is-so-outrageously-awesome-words-fail-me moment after watching Gurren Lagann, I wonder what I would have done if I saw that before watching said series…
As I’ve once mentioned, one of the key themes of the series is attributed to “belief”, which takes many forms throughout the series but rounds itself down to believing in the you who believes in yourself. Yet at the same time, “belief” is such a weak word. This isn’t simply about self-confidence or conviction. No. It is about a preemptive sense of completion, like the Kyudo concept of striking the target before releasing the arrow. It is about the elimination of all uncertainty, of having no doubts and absolutely zero pessimism. It is about that first step towards the goal when your heart and mind already anticipates success, no matter what insurmountable odds you might face or how others may doubt you.
Whether you have a Buster Machine or not is irrelevant! Those who think things like, “If only I had a Buster Machine,” can never reach the true top! That’s because… true power in those who believe in their own power until the very end! Surely, a true Buster Machine pilot, a true Nonoriri, has a Buster Machine inside the Heart! — Nono
That is GAR to the extreme. So much that even adjectives fail to contain it.